Sunday Night Potpourri: Feels Like Fall Edition

It’s a couple of hours before bedtime, and back to the classroom tomorrow morning.

***

Mondoville was spared the wrath of Hurricane Ian; all we got was a cool, rainy, windy day, of the sort Winnie-the-Pooh fans might recognize as blustery. Out of the proverbial abundance of caution, the College opted to go virtual on Friday. As it happened, my Friday classes were scheduled as workshop sessions anyway, so I didn’t have to risk any pedagogical hit points. This allowed me to take care of some grading, so I suppose it was a win-win for all of us. Over the course of the weekend, I managed to grade papers from my three Freshpeep classes. I still have a class remaining, but I hope to be able to take care of those in the next day or two.

I also found out my teaching schedule for Spring term — two Froshcomps, Shakespeare, and a fiction workshop. I’m pretty comfortable with all of these, so I’m hoping we’ll be able to have a good time. But I’m not even halfway through this term yet, so as the philosopher said in the TB ward, let’s not put Descartes before the hoarse.

***

On 18 October, the world will officially become one book richer, as El Bee’s The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown sees release. In some respects, it’s an atypical book — in others, it’s exactly the sort of book I would expect from Mr. Block. In both respects, these are good things.

As the title indicates, this is the latest installment in LB’s Bernie Rhodenbarr series. While he was here in 2019, Block issued a collection of shorts involving Bernie’s adventures. A key part of that book is a conversation with Bernie, in which the gentleman burglar complains that technology has made both his jobs (used bookseller and burglar) much more difficult, if not impossible. Between Amazon and surveillance cameras, what’s a fella to do?

Well, the new book provides an answer to that. An interesting side of Mr. B’s career is that he has a longstanding interest in science fiction, both as a reader and on a couple of occasions, as a writer. A short story from early in his career was actually named in a best-of sf collection, and it isn’t much of a stretch to classify his 1988 novel Random Walk as sf of a sort. Heck, it was published by Tor and blurbed by Spider Robinson.

Now some of this, I think, may have something to do with the fact that there was a fair amount of intersection among genre writers of a certain era. These folks were pros meeting the demands of various markets. Some guys who worked in several genres included Harlan Ellison, Anthony Boucher… and Fredric Brown. (You knew I’d get back to things eventually, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?)

The new novel kind of picks up where the interview with Bernie left off. He still has the store (he owns the building, after all — the result of his moonlighting gig), but as I’ve noted, the times seem less suitable for him. He also still has his platonic friendship with Carolyn Kaiser, the lesbian and dog groomer up the street. As most of us do, they expect to muddle along.

But. In his overly abundant spare time, Bernie has been reading some of the titular Mr. Brown’s sf — particularly a book called What Mad Universe (about which here.) And when he wakes up one morning, he — and Carolyn — find themselves in a parallel universe of their own. It’s very similar to ours, but there are differences, some subtle (the names of transit fare cards), others less so. For example, the new universe seems devoid of Amazon and security cameras. And it just so happens that a fabulously valuable gem (or I suppose, its doppelganger) might be available for the taking. . . if the thief is particularly resourceful.

There are other significant differences in the lives of Bernie and Carolyn in this other universe, but I’m not going to give those away. Suffice it to say that at least one is heartwarming and another is startling. And of course, there’s a big question — will Bernie and Carolyn get back to their original world? Read it and find out.

It’s a fun read, but there’s another aspect of the book that I think deserves attention. Charles Ardai has described Block as an existentialist writer. That’s not a “transcends the genre” sort of thing, by the way — it’s just a consequence of what he writes, or more accurately, a driver of same. In quite a few of his books, we can find a recurring theme: In many ways, we get the world we imagine or create for ourselves. I think that’s a theme in Random Walk, and we see it in his recent Dead Girl Blues. It also shows up from time to time in the Keller series and in the Scudder novels (where we find a quote from Reverend Ike that we can go to the ocean with a teacup or a bucket — the ocean doesn’t care.) What happens in Bernie and Carolyn’s worlds is another example of this theory, and that is what makes Fredric Brown both unusual and characteristic of Block’s work.

But as I said, it’s also a lot of fun. Go ahead and place your advance order; it’ll make you happy in a couple of weeks.

And by the way: Why not go ahead and place your New Year’s order for LB’s Playing Games antho, which includes my story “Lightning Round”? Thanks!

***

Well, I do have to get up early in the morning, so I’ll go ahead and wrap this one up with a bit of music. I spent the afternoon in my office grading, and today’s listening was from P.T. Walkley, a songwriter I’ve mentioned before. In fact, I’ve shared this song before, but it’s been quite a few years, so here it comes again. From his album Mr. Macy Wakes Alone, this is the closer, “Somebody.”

I hope we all can be somebody just like us. See you soon!

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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